Missing London Myths


I can hear local schoolchildren singing from my study (their playground is on a nearby roof) and reading about a supposed ‘plague pit’ in the local press – seemingly any piece of unclaimed land attracts the notion that it’s there because it was once a plague pit – reminds me that the ‘Ring a ring of roses’ story is false.

The myth that it’s about the plague started mid-20th century when it became fashionable to ascribe historical backgrounds to nursery rhymes. The word ‘posies’ was taken to mean the posies of flowers carried as nosegays against the smell of the dead.

As late as 2007, local papers were reporting that Norbury residents were fighting plans to use ‘plague pit land’, but in fact Norbury had virtually no residents in 1665, as a little fact-checking would have discovered.

Many London myths are dying out now – a few odd folk customs like Beating the Bounds and the Doggets Boat Race still take place, but the building of grottoes by children and the making of guys for Guy Fawkes’ Night have gone – the latter has only disappeared in the last few decades, driven out by Hallowe’en’s marketing-friendly push from the US.

Instead, a new Easter horror has appeared. Waitrose are selling Easter Crackers and toys. When I asked why we should give toys at Easter, I was told it’s becoming an American custom. Can this be true?

Personally, if there’s one traditional event I’d bring back it would be Bartholomew Fair at Smithfields, where you could see dozens of plays in booths all around the fairground.

8 comments on “Missing London Myths”

  1. Evelyn Sawyer says:

    Easter crackers? I wondered what those were in Waitrose! I was however very heartened to see that the Interesting Thoughts of Edward Monkton have made it into chocolate form and will be going down that route….

  2. Anne Marie says:

    I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I don’t see toys being given out at Easter, so I’m not sure where this notion that it has become a custom here started. Of course, I don’t have children so I might not be as up on these things, but I don’t see my niece and nephews getting them. Interesting.

  3. Vickie Farrar says:

    Back in the mid-60’s, my mom filled Easter baskets for her kids (five of us). Mine always contained the latest Beatles’ single, along with the traditional eggs and chocolates. So I think the giving of “toys” (or gifts) has been around in the U.S. for at least a few of decades. And I must say, being a 11-year-old kid without income, I was most appreciative of those 45 RPM records!

  4. Sam Tomaino says:

    I still got chocolate in the mid-60’s. In the 90’s, when I was getting stuff for my niece & nephew, I might get them a toy or video. They were not big on chocolate.

    I think this may become more the thing to do because of the crusade against anything that’s fattening for kids. Don’t buy them that big chocolate bunny, get them a toy instead.

    Even still, I think it would be A toy. Just one. Not the pile for Christmas.

  5. Steve says:

    The “Toys at Easter” thing is being pushed by the Marketing Monsters. If it does actually become a custom, that would be why.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Chocolate. Eggs (chocolate) Bunnies (chocolate) Period. Mostly. Like the Beatles 45 mentioned above, sometimes a toy or book, usually a spring, animal or religious theme. Foo! (There were those crazy people who gave their children a real bunny and when the children became bored with it would let it loose in the closest patch of wilderness. Which is why there is a nature reserve south of the river which is overloaded with rabbits.)

  7. John Griffin says:

    Consume, consume, consume. Buy, buy, buy. This is sometimes the only, lamentable contact between the world of real people and the world of money. It is difficult to step off the treadmill when so many people cannot see it as such. As one of my sixth form students said, in response to the (very simplified) basics of tax havens, imaginary money and banking disasters: “I don’t want to know this. It makes things too complicated. I like the world as it is. It makes my head hurt.”

  8. Elizabeth says:

    If it ain’t Peeps, it ain’t Easter!

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